As jobs for lawyers disappear in the mist, applications for law school have risen 7%, according to the National Law Journal. One explanation is that law school applicants are going underground.
“It’s absolutely consistent with every recession we’ve seen, with more people looking to graduate programs and into law school,” said Jim Leipold, the executive director of NALP, formerly the National Association for Law Placement. “Historically, it’s not been a bad strategy. I do think, for the immediate future, there are going to be fewer entry-level jobs at law firms.”
The other is that hope springs eternal. Though the Biglaw job market has tanked, applicants think they will be the one to grasp the golden ring.
Over at Above the Law, debate has broken out. Elie Mystal has taken the position that law school is a bad investment, apparently siding with the Law is for Losers contingent of the Slackoisie. This position is characterized by people who cared deeply about being lawyers provided they made big money, easy work and nothing to interfere with happy hour. For those who view law school as a financial investment, it’s certainly not a great bet.
David Lat, on the other hand, takes the opposing view and offers five arguments:
1. If a law degree is like a lottery ticket, remember: some people still win.
2. There are many great career options in law outside of large law firms.
3. What else are you going to do with yourself?
4. Not everyone graduates with debt (or with as much debt as some people think).
5. You get to put “Esq.” after your name.
While presented in his typical humorous fashion, Lat’s fifth argument, which he acknowledges is literally lame, is figuratively important.
The law is a learned and a noble profession, and some people truly are meant to be lawyers. In order to become a lawyer, you (generally) need to go to law school. So law school isn’t all bad — or is at least a necessary evil — and fair coverage of the world of legal education should reflect this.
Some people truly want to be lawyers. They want to wake up in the morning and look forward to a day of practicing law. Not just the young and naive, all filled with the transitory zeal that lasts until the mortgage payment is due, but those who realize that being a lawyer is hard work. Tell me how you feel about it after five, ten or twenty years of banging your head against a wall, and realizing that the wall usually wins the battle.
The problem can be cut down to size with the realization that pretty much anybody can become a lawyer, but not everybody should. So many of the problems, the race to the gutter, that face lawyers today are caused by the glut combined with the absence of any real calling. No, this is not just a business. No, this is not the guaranteed path to wealth and prestige. No, this is not for everybody who can get into law school or pass the bar.
At the same time, those who denigrate the law as a losing proposition miss the point as well. Their disgust at their situation is misplaced anger, blaming the law for their own poor choice of entering a profession in which they don’t belong. Mark Bennett posts his responses to an angst-ridden twitterer doing document review.
I could have been a contender instead of what I am, a document review attorney.
No, you couldn’t have been a contender, because that choice was, and remains, available but you’ve chosen your path.
There are thousands of people who need lawyers for one thing or another—family law cases, landlord-tenant disputes, consumer disputes—but can’t find competent counsel because the number of competent lawyers willing to work for $50 an hour is exceedingly small.
Representing people in such disputes is not glamorous—your fellow document reviewers might even call it “shitlaw”—and you’ll never get rich doing it right, but it’s a service to your fellow humans, and you can make a living while working for people who are grateful for your time and your service. Show some competence—hell, show some interest—in such cases, and I’ll spread your name far and wide to our fellow lawyers who would appreciate having someone to refer the small stuff to. Maybe it’ll even grow into something bigger, so that instead of just making a living, you’re a success.
The problem isn’t the law, the unavailability of big money jobs, or the luck of the draw. The problem is that this person should never have been a lawyer in the first place.
Lat is right, a lawyer gets to put “Esq.” after his name. It’s not about the Esq., but about wanting to be the Esq. and about the Esq. being all you need to march your butt out the door every morning and finding a person who needs an Esq. and serving them. If that’s not what you had in mind, or doesn’t pay enough, or isn’t sufficiently prestigious, or just plain makes you feel badly about your sorry lot in life, then the only person you have to blame is yourself.
If you want to be a lawyer, be a lawyer. If not, take your degree and run away as fast as you can. We certainly don’t need more miserable people running around crying about the misery of their lawyer lives, and you are never going to be a “contender”. But if you know all of this about the law, and still want to jump in and do the hard, often painful and occasionally unprofitable work of being a lawyer, it remains a learned and noble profession.
The few of you who feel this way are the ones who were truly meant to be a lawyer. You will find your place in the law, and there will be no wall that will dissuade you. You may never get rich, but you will get your reward.